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Mar 26

Health Foods A-Z: Spinach

Green leafy vegetables, as we all know, are excellent sources of vitamins and minerals, as also dietary fiber. One excellent example is spinach. Spinach has long been recognized for its benefits, and my earliest recollection is of Popeye popping cans of spinach to become healthy and strong, from lean, to face all the challenges before him.

Spinach is an excellent source of antioxidants and anti-cancer constituents, and is a wonderful source for phyto nutrients that help promote health and fight disease.

It is a low calorie, low fat food and has a good amount of soluble dietary fiber. This is the reason it is one of the best vegetables recommended for cholesterol controlling and weight reduction programs. It is also an excellent source of iron. In fact, it is the richest in iron among green leafy vegetables. Iron is required for strong bones and prevention of osteoporosis and anemia.

Vitamins in spinach are plenty, including vitamin A, vitamin C, many B-complex vitamins and antioxidants such as beta carotene are also plenty. These are important for disease prevention and delay aging. Vitamin A has long been known to be great for eye health, while vitamin C has proven benefits of strengthening the immune system. The other benefits of eating spinach are a role in the prevention of colon, prostate, lung and oral cavity cancers. Spinach leaves are also great for vitamin K consumption. Vitamin K is good for the bones and also helps Alzheimers patients by limiting brain damage.

Minerals found in spinach include potassium, manganese, magnesium, copper and zinc. Potassium is great for heart rate and blood pressure, while copper helps in the production of red blood cells. It is also an excellent source of omega 3 fatty acids.

Spinach is, however, high in sodium, so beware of excess consumption.

Spinach is a winter vegetable and should be brought fresh. Dark green, crisp leaves are best. Dull, sunken or discolored leaves have probable gone bad. Before use, wash them thoroughly with tap water and if not organic, preferably rinse in salt water to remove dust and insecticide residue. Since the nutrition is best when the leaves are fresh, consume them at the earliest. They can, however, be stored in the refrigerator for a maximum of one week.

Spinach can be had raw in salads, or be used in a variety of main dishes. The recipe below is for a North Indian recipe called Palak Paneer, or spinach with cottage cheese. Its a delicacy and is very popular, apart from being healthy and nutritious.

Ingredients

1 lb paneer or cottage cheese

Approx 1 lb fresh spinach leaves

2 tbsp. oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

1 large tomato pureed

2 tsp shredded garlic

1 tsp shredded ginger

2 tsp coriander powder

1 tsp cumin powder

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

1 tsp garam masala powder

Salt to taste

1 tbsp of butter to garnish (optional)

Method

While some prefer to fry the paneer before adding it to this recipe, I prefer to add it without frying to keep it healthy. If you prefer, you can fry the paneer and set aside before beginning to cook the spinach.

Wash the spinach thoroughly. It attracts and retains dust very easily, so make sure you are very thorough. Put it in a bowl full of water for a while, if required. After thoroughly washing the spinach, we will blanch it. This is a process wherein the spinach is put into boiling salted water for about 2 minutes and then removed from the boiling water and put under cold water to stop the cooking process. After blanching, leave it in the cold water for some time to enable it to cool down. Once cool, put it in a food processor to make a puree. You can also use a hand blender if you prefer.

Heat oil in a pan, add onions and sauté till onions turn golden brown. Add ginger and garlic and sauté for a minute. Add the tomato, coriander powder, cumin powder and turmeric, mix well and cook till the oil starts separating from the mixture. Add the pureed spinach and a little water (about 2-3 tablespoons), mix well and cook on medium heat for 2-3 minutes. Add the salt and garam masala and mix well. Add the paneer and cook for another 2 minutes.

Garnish with butter (optional) and serve hot.

This post is part of a series on health foods. I have previously written about Avocado, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Dates, Eggs, Fennel, Green chickpeas or chholiya, Honey, Iceberg lettuce, Jackfruit, Kidney Beans, Lentils, Milk, Nectarine, Olives, Peas, the alphabet Q and Radish.

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